Archives For preaching

What Are You Chasing?

October 2, 2017

I have the privilege to speak to the students of Clarks Summit University in chapel, Tuesday, Sept 26. I challenged the students to chase after godliness with purpose from 1 Timothy 4:6-8. The message can be found here.

 

 

You will want to read the update by Dr. Mark McGinniss regarding the strategic changes to the Journal of Theology & Ministry that is published by Baptist Bible Seminary. Click here for the story.

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I recently preached a Christmas sermon at NorthValley Baptist Church (Mayfield, PA) and used Luke 1:46-56 as my text. I began the message asking the congregation, “What’s worth celebrating to you?” As they sat there contemplating the question, I encouraged them to make a list. (before continuing to read this blog post, you, . . . yes you, create your list). I’m sure the majority of our lists include graduation ceremonies, weddings, birthdays, baptisms, salvations, one’s first job, accomplishments of our children, etc. But I wonder, would “God’s grace” make our list? Would we even stop and think about His grace as something to celebrate; is it even of the celebratory nature? To many, probably not.

But I want you to consider Luke’s recording of Mary’s Song of Praise. Luke interrupted the normal flow of his biblical narrative to engage the audience to join in the celebration of what God has done; and did so using Mary’s song of praise. This passage (1:46-56) follows closely on the heels of Luke’s recording of Gabriel’s announcement to Mary (1:26-38) and then Mary’s eager departure to visit Elizabeth (1:39-45). These two preceding portions of Luke’s story demonstrate the gracious hand of God; that is, Mary is with child, namely the Messiah, and Elizabeth, who is full of the Holy Spirit, discerns that Mary is blessed among women. Now, what does Mary do? Well, Darrell Bock in his commentary summarizes Mary’s response. He states, “Elizabeth’s blessing produces a reaction from Mary. She bursts into praise, offering a hymn of thanksgiving. The hymn gives thanks for God’s gracious dealings with her, actions that reflect how he has treated humanity through all generations,” (BEC, 142).

Mary declares that God is great and He is Savior (1:46-47). There are two reasons (ὅτι-clauses) for her praise. First, Mary praises God because of His loving care to use her to bear the child. She is privileged and graced by God. She also declares that “from now on, (ESV)” all generations will call her blessed. This is the cool part = ‘from now on,’ things will be different. Once Mary was touched by the gracious hand of God, things are and will be different. They are never the same! Amen!

Second, Mary praises God because He is holy; the mighty one (v. 49). God’s holiness is not an afterthought; rather it is an explanation of His sovereign authority as the ruler over his people. This description, ‘mighty one,’ refers to a warrior who fights on behalf of His people and delivers them.

Mary also declares that God is merciful and righteous (1:50-53). He is merciful because his mercy extends to those who fear Him; that is, those who acknowledge God’s rightful position and authority over them. His mercy (ἔλεος) is similar to the Hebrew term hesed – royal-covenant/faithful love. He is righteous because He extends His power and removes His enemies from His path. He exalts the humble and supplies need to the hungry.

Lastly, Mary praises God for His loyal love (1:54-55). It is God’s covenant mercy and remembrance of His promises to Abraham that Israel is and will be blessed. Bock states, “The point is that God’s action is motivated by his loyal love. He remembered mercy declaring that God’s actions grew out of his faithful regard for his covenant promises,” (BEC, 159). But it begins with Jesus, of whom Mary will deliver. She celebrates with an anthem of praise.

God’s act of salvation, isn’t this worth celebrating? What is your plan this Christmas season to do so? His act is rooted in grace and faithfulness, will you pause this Christmas season to praise the Lord for His faithfulness?

Diagram of Luke 1

A Tribute to a Pastor

March 13, 2016

Consistently ministering to a flock, of which God has given you the privilege to do so, is an incredible opportunity. Ministering for 40+ years, is even more amazing. I am writing this blog post on behalf of my father-in-law, Bob Baker, who has been faithfully ministering to God’s people for the last 4 decades or so . . . Wow, what a heritage. What an example. Today, however – he retires.

So, what do you say to someone who has left this kind of legacy? Well, you offer biblical reasons to appreciate and value him as a pastor; a shepherd. I would like to review two passages of Scripture that I think best describe my dad’s life and ministry. First, is Paul’s admonition to Timothy in his first letter (4:12-13). Here Paul admonishes Timothy to be an example. This means to offer oneself as an impression; an impression that is used as a mold to shape someone or something else. Paul’s point here is that Timothy should not so much be an example that others can emulate, but that he is to be a mold that should be pressed into the lives of others so they too can attain the same shape. How is this to be done? It is to be done in one’s everyday speech, everyday life, through a selfless love – expecting nothing in return, through a trustworthiness in God, and through a pure life. This represents a faithful servant, minister of God’s word. This exemplifies dad’s character; his life as a godly example for others.

Paul continues in verse 13. Timothy is also to read God’s word, exhort others using God’s word, and teach God’s word. Basically he is admonishing Timothy to immerse himself in the biblical text, encourage others to godliness and while doing so, emphasize the centrality of the text through study, devotion and life. His lifestyle is to be characterized as a devotion to, and immersion in, the biblical text. Again, I cannot think of a better way to describe my father-in-law’s ministry to others and characterize his life lived before others. As Paul states later in the text (v. 16), dad paid close attention to his life and continued in the teaching of God’s word. He and his ministry exemplified Paul’s admonitions to Timothy.

The second passage comes from the first letter written by Peter. Here (5:1-4), Peter admonishes the elders (pastors) with some challenging pastoral responsibilities. The pastor is to feed the flock; that is, consistently use the word of God to grow your people toward godliness. He is also to look after, or inspect the flock. Inspecting the people to ensure that their lives are God-pleasing to the church and community at large. How is the pastor to do these things? Willingly, eagerly, and with humility; exhibiting the godly character for others to emulate.

This is not always easy. But over the years I have watched, and carefully observed these qualities in dad’s life and ministry. He has loved people. He has shared the gospel with many, and by God’s grace, had the privilege to experience God’s working in and through people as they humble themselves and accept Jesus as their Savior. He is an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor 5:20). He has paid careful attention to and devoted his life to the Scriptures. He has taught the Scriptures in order to exhort others to growth in godliness. He has done it without complaint. Why? Because he loves his Lord, and the Lord’s people. He truly understands Hebrews 13:17; that is, to watch over God’s people knowing he would one day give an account for them and he did it with joy. Thanks dad for your example. Thanks for being a Paul to this Timothy.

Pastor Bob Baker and wife Donna

Pastor Bob Baker and wife Donna

 

I was very surprised and greatly honored to be asked to preach Dick’s funeral message. There are far more capable preachers than me. But to open the Word of God at the memorial service for one of my long time mentors and friends was a special privilege. I prayed, and my church family at Northmoreland prayed with me, that God would give me both the physical strength to stand to preach and also the emotional strength to do so in an honorable way. My oncologist also worked with me in advance to prepare my weakened body for the physical challenge; his help is appreciated.

Dick had given specific written instructions as to what the preacher was to do. (I explain them in the message). In one of his last lucid moments 2 weeks ago he asked his wife to contact me to be that preacher. So, for what it is worth, here is a pdf manuscript of the message. It comprised about the last half hour of a two-hour memorial service.

(If you have no idea who “Dick” is, see the previous post on this blog.)

Funeral_RichardWEngle_2014.pdf

I spoke in our seminary chapel today on Luke 20:27–38. It is not a profound sermon and may not many qualities of a sermon per se.

My thoughts on this passage were stimulated a year or two ago when a friend of mine, John Makujina, asked me to proof an article that he was writing. That article will appear in the next (?) edition of Filologia Neotestamentaria, “‘Till Death Do Us Part,’ Or the Continuation of Marriage in the Eschaton? Answering Recent Objections to the Traditional Reading of Γαμέω-Γαμίζω in the Synoptic Gospels,” 25 [2012]: 57–74. (FN runs well behind, so yes, 2012 is the correct year, though not yet in print that I know.) It’s well worth reading when it is available; quite technical. Another helpful discussion is found in Bock’s BECNT comm. on Luke. Were this an academic paper rather than a sermon, there would be footnotes to both Makujina and Bock.

So, FWIW, here’s a transcript, slightly edited and abridged from the oral presentation.

Luke20_marriageResurrection_Blog.pdf

Not sure how I missed this on the fall conference tables, but there is a new edition of D. A. Carson’s NT Commentary Survey. 7th ed. Baker, 2013. 176 pgs. pbk. ISBN: 9780801039904.

If you are not familiar with this resource, you really ought to be, esp. if you are a pastor, student, or even a NT specialist. (The pastor is the primary target audience.) The burgeoning number of commentaries of various sorts on just about any NT book makes it nigh impossible for most of us to keep track of what’s available and to what our attention might profitably be due—and these two categories do not coincide!

That is the value of the extensive survey and analysis that Carson provides. His analysis does not consist of reviews of each volume—that would take an encyclopedic work. Rather he gives you his conclusions as to the best works available on each NT book along with extensive listings of other resources grouped in various categories. For many there are very brief comments as to why they are listed as they are. That is where the Survey shines. This is not just a dull bibliography. Carson writes with verve and pulls no punches. It’s the only bibliography with which I am familiar that can produce chuckles and even peals of laughter as you read. (If you are a commentary writer, it may also produce tears!)

When I was pastoring and the early editions of this Survey became available (many years ago now) my practice, which I commend to young pastors seeking a pattern for their preaching and study, was to look ahead at my intended preaching schedule and then consult Carson and the other bibliographies available (in the early years—1980s—Barber’s Minister’s Library was another standby, but now obsolete) to see what I had and what was recommended. I’d then buy 3 or 4 of the best of those recommendations so as to have on hand the tools I’d be most likely to profit from in the coming year as my preaching schedule materialized into actual sermons.

I’ll append some of my favorite comments from a few NT books as a sample and then suggest that you visit your favorite book source and get your own copy (yes, even if you have the 6th ed.; the additions and new/expanded sections are worth it). I’ll leave the more negative comments anonymous as to the writer so described; you can find them for yourself if you’re interested. If it appears that there are more negative than positive, that’s true of the book overall. Carson’s goal is, I think, to hi-light the best and indicate why others do not measure up.

Mark

6 best commentaries for pastors are: France, Edwards, Stein, Lane, Hooker, and Brooks. (These are followed by a mixed summary of their strengths that I’ll not reproduce here.)

Negative assessments

  • “Sometimes incautiously speculative in its re-creation of the church circumstances Mark allegedly addresses.”
  • “Far too speculative regarding what can be known about the historical Jesus. Mark emerges as a late Paulinist.”
  • “He is stimulating but irritating, owing to a penchant to read behind the passage rather than the passage itself, and sometimes to read in defiance of the passage.”
  • “So odd I am uncertain why it was published.”

Acts

“Until a few years ago, the book of Acts was still not particularly well served by commentaries, but this has changed. The first choice today for pastors and students is David G. Peterson (PNTC, 2009). It reflects careful work across the gamut of integral disciplines: text criticism, grammatical exegesis, historical considerations, literary criticism, and, above all, robust theological reflection.’

Also commended are Schnabel (ZECNT), Bock (BECNT), Barrett (ICC), and Fitzmyer (AB).

Less complementary assessments

  • “Its deviously complex reconstructions of Luke’s sources and theological interests not infrequently in defiance of hard evidence, make it an unsuitable starting point for most preachers.”
  • “Amazingly thin on theology, for which coins and inscriptions are no substitute.”
  • “Not theologically rich but is generally useful if one overlooks the occasionally intrusive semi-Pelagianism.”
  • “Only rarely reflects careful exegesis. Theology that is too abstracted from the history in which God embedded its disclosure, let alone careful contextual reading of the text, is in danger of being free-floating, rootless.”
  • “Sometimes more interested in communication than in a careful understanding of the material to be communicated.”
  • “Sometimes confuses carefully examined social context with comparatively uncontrolled modern social theory.”

Romans

“Although one or two reviewers of earlier editions of this Survey have criticized me for saying so, with distinct lack of repentance I continue to think that the best Romans commentary for pastors available in English is still the work of Douglas J. Moo (NIC, 1996). It is becoming a bit dated now, and its introduction is thin, but Moo exhibits extraordinary good sense in his exegesis. No less important, his is the first commentary to cull what is useful from the new perspective on Paul while nevertheless offering telling criticisms of many of its exegetical and theological stances. The combination of the strong exegesis and the rigorous interaction makes the work superior to…”

“Occasionally Cranfield [ICC, 2 vols.] seems more influenced by Barth than by Paul, but for thoughtful exegesis of the Greek text, with a careful weighing of alternative positions, there is nothing quite like it. It is rare that a commentary provides students with an education in grammatical exegesis.”

Less complementary assessments

  • “Its socio-rhetorical interpretation is too narrow, too horizontal, and, finally, too unconvincing.”
  • On many issues I could not avoid the feeling that the exegesis in this commentary is agenda-driven.”
  • “Suitably faddish but too often misses Paul’s point.”
  • “Characterized by somewhat untamed rhetoric when he dismisses those with whom he disagrees.”
  • “Will fill your soul with lovely thoughts, even if you have something less tangible at the end than you expected.”
  • “The thesis as a whole is frankly reductionistic; … makes the epistle feel as if it is a book about [the commentary writer’s] own ideas rather than something rooted in history.”

Misc. comments from other books (not identified here)

  • “Shows too many signs of haste. More irritatingly, it does not seem to have been edited or proofread.”
  • “Written with color and verve…. The work is an exercise in brilliantly phrased reductionism.”
  • “Wordy and often betrays too little time and care taken with the text, so that they cannot be read as reliable commentary.”
  • “Painfully divorced from the historical Jesus: one marvels at how bright [the biblical author] is and how unknown Jesus is.”

More could be said and excerpted, but this is enough to encourage you (I hope!) to make good use of this book.

Bring Your Bible to Church

August 23, 2013

Worth reading:

Dear Pastor, Bring Your Bible to Church

Matthew Barrett

On the Credo site

I’ve had similar thoughts, but this essay spells it out in more detail than I’ve attempted, though it does have some similar sentiments to a paper that I wrote quite a few years ago:

Communicating the Text in the Postmodern Ethos of Cyberspace: Cautions Regarding the Technology and the Text

I might say a few things a bit differently now, but the essential concerns are still valid.

Quotable

May 17, 2013

This is directed to “youth leaders,” but it’s also relevant to preaching in general.

Youth leaders, in an attempt to be “relevant,” have begun to abandon a true reliance on God’s Word and a deep belief in the inherent power of the Bible. They have lost faith in God’s ability to get his work done through his inspired, written Word. So they try in all sorts of ways to “spice up” the message. They analyze the newest Lady Gaga song. They show lots of YouTube clips to demonstrate their main points…. Talks become more funny, more cute, and seemingly more ‘relevant” … and the Bible plays a less and less prominent role.

Here is what many of us youth leaders have forgotten: the Word of God alone holds inherent, divine power to accomplish the saving work of God in people’s hearts and lives. God’s Word is God’s chosen way to get his work done in student’s lives. So when we make our talks cute, relevant, and funny—and shove the Bible from its rightful prominent place in our teaching—we have stopped grounding our teaching in the only truly powerful foundation: God’s inspired Word.

Jon Nielson, Bible Study: A Student’s Guide (P&R, 2013), 36–37.

Here are links to two blog posts from this past week that are worth reading. The longest is Kevin Bauder’s Nick of Time article on corporate worship. An excerpt:

First, corporate worship is more than individual people worshipping at the same place and time. It is possible to have an entire room filled with worshipping Christians who take no cognizance of each other. They may all be worshipping, but if they are acting severally and not jointly, then they are not engaged in corporate worship. Their assembly no more constitutes a temple than a crowd of people listening to their iPods constitutes a concert. …

Second, corporate worship cannot be done vicariously. One person cannot worship in behalf of another. Worship cannot be delegated to a minister or other worship leader. Watching someone worship does not constitute worship. In other words, worship is never a spectator event. …

Third, worship does not have an audience. It has an object, and its object is God Himself. …

Fourth, true worship is neither a spectacle nor a form of entertainment. Worshippers are not performers. They are adorers, admirers of God who praise Him for His character and His mighty deeds. …

As always, Kevin’s essays are thoughtful—and thought-provoking.

The second is much shorter, but the quote included is interesting. Mark McGinniss quotes (and comments on) Ellen F. Davis on preaching the OT (an Expository Times article):

What distinguishes Jeremiah from the masses of burnt-out ministers, lay and ordained, in the church, is that he never tries to fuel his ministry with his own vision, enthusiasm and creativity, with the clever answers he has devised to the conundrums of life.

There is more, but I’ll let you read it on Mark’s Outside My Door blog.

At this year’s Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics in Houston I presented, at the request of the Council chairman (who is also my dean), a paper titled:

“Preaching and the Biblical Languages: Garnish or Entrée? Mellon or Mantra?”

DeckerR_PreachBibLanguages2012rev.pdf

I have since made a few revisions of that paper and post it here. The revision also includes a brief response to another paper on the same subject at the Council, one which takes a very different approach to the subject, arguing that pastors must teach their people Greek and Hebrew (indeed, the full exegetical process including textual criticism, etc.) so that they can be “spiritually mature.” That paper will be posted on Council website in due time when all the papers have been revised in light of the discussion engendered by our meeting in Houston.

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Cooks… and preaching

September 6, 2012

I promised a “mellon” excerpt in my last post, but I realized that if I did that I’d also answer the question I posed, so I’ll shift to a different analogy from the same paper.

Forty years ago as a college and seminary student I was a cook. I worked in various types of kitchen settings: short order, line cook, and commercial dining rooms. In most such situations we were concerned that the plate we served look nice. Part of the “dressing” was some sort of garnish—a sprig of parsley, a spiced apple ring, a lemon curl, etc. The garnish was not part of the nutritional value of the meal. We did not intend that our customers eat the parsley. It just looked nice. What we wanted them to eat was the entrée. Whether that was a juicy steak grilled to perfection or a chicken breast stuffed and wrapped and prepared just so, we took great pains that it be good quality, tender, and tasty. We did not, however, carry it to their table on a greasy spatula or in a crusty roasting pan. We served the finished product in an appealing, ready-to-eat form.

That setting provides my analogy. The biblical languages should not function merely as a garnish. Too often pastors pay only lip service to the biblical languages. They may acknowledge that they are important—at least to the commentary writer. They expect others to do the dirty work so that they can garnish their sermons with impressive-sounding jargon, a sprig of Greek parsley. “In the original Greek this is an ‘ā-or-ist’ tense, therefore it means [such and such.]” Or they add a lemon curl. “The Greek perfect mood proves that we were saved in the past and will be eternally secure forever.” Or for a real “ringer” (i.e., a spiced apple ring garnish), “This word in the original Greek is number 4352 which is a compound of 4314 and 2965, so it means to lick God’s hand like a puppy dog.” All such statements are merely attempts to sound impressive or to wield the Greek as an authority club. They prove nothing and do not add anything to understanding the meaning of the text. That is neither the purpose nor the value of the biblical languages.

Thanks to a tip from Tom Bastress (a former student of mine), I can recommend a good article on the Reformation21 blog yesterday:

The beauty of concealed scholarship
by Jeremy Walker

For a taste:

Recent discussions about the place and purpose of seminary need to take into account that much of what passes for gold in the seminary environment turns into tripe in the pulpit, where all the brilliance and erudition that the seminary demands in order to attain its honours needs to be sublimated to the task of preaching the plain truth plainly. That learning cannot and must not be abandoned, but its display needs to be sacrificed on the altar of usefulness. One of the dangers of the seminary is that gifted men may leave it well able to deliver a very competent lecture to their fellow-graduates, but with very little clue as to how to deliver a straightforward sermon to Christ’s hungry flock. The display of learning must be unlearned without unlearning the learning itself.

(Emphasis added)

Conjuring and Preaching

December 6, 2011

I was reminded by an email yesterday of a quote that I had included in a paper that I wrote some time ago–and then had occasion to think of it again twice today, one listening to a preacher and once again reading a student paper.

I always think of the tricks of those ingenious gentlemen who entertain the public by rubbing a sovereign between their hands till it becomes a canary, and drawing out of their coat sleeves half-a-dozen brilliant glass globes filled with water, and with four or five goldfish swimming in each of them. For myself, I like to listen to a good preacher, and I have no objection in the world to be amused by the tricks of a clever conjuror; but I prefer to keep the conjuring and the preaching separate: conjuring on Sunday morning, conjuring in church, conjuring with texts of Scripture, is not quite to my taste.

R. W. Dale, Nine Lectures on Preaching, the 1876 Yale Lectures (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1877), 127; cited in Stott, Between Two Worlds, 132.